The gentleman could be forgiven his question. Roy Sherry had taken his Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle to last year’s vehicle swap meet at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds.
A guy was admiring the unusual Forest Green bike and asked Sherry if he had restored it himself. The retired oil patch Landman explained that his Royal Enfield only looks old and that actually it’s a 2017 model.
“Most people have never heard of this motorcycle brand,” Sherry said. “Which is astounding because Royal Enfield is the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Last year they produced around 800,000 motorcycles.”
The first Royal Enfield was produced in jolly old England circa 1901.
The company’s bikes evolved from having rawhide belt drive trains to the legendary Bullet model which debuted in 1932.
That version didn’t look much different from the one Sherry rides today. The first partnership between Royal Enfield and India began in 1955 and now all the company’s motorcycles are made in that nation. The Bullet holds the distinction of having the longest continuous production run in world history.
“I bought my Bullet in 2018,” Sherry said. “My history with this bike would overlap with my interest in it.”
He remembers rediscovering the brand in 2009. Sherry began riding motorcycles back in the 1970s. During that era many British bikes were exported to the USA. There was Norton, BSA, Triumph and Matchless with several different models among them.
“Norton 750 Commandos were huge when I was a teenager,” he said. “The 1938 BSA 250 which one of our Canadian River Cruisers car club member’s has looks remarkably like my bike today. It’s the same gas tank and saddle configuration.”
But Sherry didn’t have any of those British bikes in his youth.
He rode a more typical 1960s era Yamaha 50, a Honda CL 175 Scrambler, a Honda CB 350, and a Honda XL 350 Enduro. Then Sherry went for a couple of decades without riding at all.
He decided to take a motorcycle riding safety class which was a good idea for anyone resuming riding after a period of not doing so.
“I’d heard of Royal Enfield for years but I started looking for a good, inexpensive, vintage-style motorcycle,” Sherry said. “At that time there wasn’t a dealer in Oklahoma; I would have had to go out of state.”
Instead Sherry found another collectible bike from back in the day in Texas and satisfied himself with that for a time.
“That was a 1978 Honda CB 750 K which was a real high performance bike when it came out in 1969,” he said. “It was antique-y and from my main motorcycle era.”
The 750 didn’t work out. Its 500-pound curb weight felt top heavy and like there was too much power.
They are 4-cylinder screamers. Sherry sold it and bought a 1974 Honda Trail 90.
“I was searching online and found the Royal Enfield,” he said. There was then a dealer in central Oklahoma, which is now closed, but there’s presently one in Tulsa.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia for me riding the Royal Enfield,” Sherry said. “It’s a true mid-century design as opposed to retro or tribute which a lot of manufacturers are doing. Triumph Bonneville would be one of those. My bike is just what it is and what it has always been with improvements along the way.”
The appeal goes back to what Sherry remembers from the 1970s.
“I also like the bike’s low-tech aspect,” he said. “I’m not a tech-savvy person. It’s so mechanical and all by the seat of your pants operation. It’s a long-stroke, low-torque engine. In relatively low gears, you can chug away from situations.”
The Bullet’s 500cc engine size is the same as what was offered in 1932.
Although the modern version has electronic ignition, you can also kick-start it.
Gauges are speedometer, odometer, check engine and low fuel warning lights only. Fuel injection has replaced carburetors but the motor is still air-cooled. It gets a chill 75 miles to a gallon.
Suspension is old school with conventional front forks and coil over shocks in the rear. The beast is relatively cold-blooded and a one minute engine warm-up time before rolling is recommended.
“I just love the bike’s appearance, exhaust sound and the feel,” Sherry said. “It feels like an old thing, but the clutch engagement is smooth. I like things that look old but are brand new.”
The Royal Enfield is not a touring bike or highway cruiser.
“But for back roads like from here to Lake Thunderbird or the Seaba Station motorcycle museum in Warwick, it’s perfect and great for getting some riding therapy,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d want to take a trip on it unless I made very frequent stops.
“I like having a bike that provides the experience of going for a ride. It’s so multi-dimensional as opposed to sitting behind the wheel of a car. You’re shifting gears a lot, feeling temperature changes and noticing smells. It’s a visceral and emotional experience.”
People ask Sherry how old his bike is and wave at him on the street.
He wears a cool, form-fitting, black Royal Enfield logo jacket whose styling recalls 1964 British mod fashion.
“Today a neighbor stopped to watch me going chugging along because it has a very distinctive sound,” Sherry said.
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill is always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. Email him at email@example.com.